Happy birthday at last, all you leap-day babies
February 29, 2004
Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter
Their kind was born today, leap day. For the rest of us, February 29 is just an extra 24 hours to fritter away.
They call themselves "leapers" and "29ers" and use other nicknames to bond those with phantom birthdays.
Because of a centuries-old solution to a calendar flaw, their birth date doesn't even appear three out of every four years. So their births are celebrated the day before or the day after or wedged in around other commitments.
One year, recalled leap-year baby Emily Lipovan Holan, who is 36 today (9 in leap years), her parents didn't get around to celebrating her birthday until March 20.
"I think it formed my accommodating personality," she said accommodatingly.
Leap year is a numbers game. The chance of being born on leap day is about 1 in 1,461. There are an estimated 4 million leapers around the world, but most of them go through life meeting maybe one or two others.
"When you find another leap-year baby, it's like a tribe" member, said Lipovan Holan, a Clevelander who knows two others.
More like a subculture. There are leap-year books, a leap-year festival and, available on www.leapyearday.com, a Leap Erickson doll, frog jewelry and "Leap Happens" stickers, magnets and T-shirts.
Some beat incredible odds to actually have fellow leapers living in the same house.
Kim Martin of West Chester in southwest Ohio was born on leap day 1960; her son, Chris, on leap day 1988. He wasn't induced, just tired of waiting.
"I will be 11, and my son will be 4," she said, days before leaving for a special double birthday trip to Walt Disney World.
Dawn Burnley of Wadsworth, who has "LP YEAR" license plates, met another leaper just five minutes after she was born. She and her identical twin, Denise Wein, who lives in Georgia, are 36 (9 in leap years) today.
Because Feb. 29 lands so infrequently, some leapers cram four years of celebrating into one.
In nonleap years, Tremont neon artist and leap-year kid Jeff Chiplis barely acknowledges his birthday. At midnight, as Feb. 28 slides into March 1, he simply raises his hands, snaps his fingers and says, "That's it."
But when Feb. 29 rolls around every four years, it's a major blowout. Siblings and friends fly in from as far away as Hawaii, Oregon and Massachusetts to celebrate with him.
This year's party has a Hawaiian luau theme, with flowery shirts, catered Hawaiian pork butt and Don Ho on the jukebox in Chiplis' art studio. The party began when the first guests arrived Thursday and won't end until the last one leaves on Monday.
The older he gets - Chiplis is 52 (or 13) - the more leap year means.
"It's that eternal youth thing," said Chiplis, his smile sandwiched between a white soul patch and sparkling gray-blue eyes. "I'm gonna be a teenager. Puberty's kicking in, and this time I'm ready for it."
Leap year is for prepubescents, too.
Today, at the Happy Days School in Ravenna Township, Sarah Lund-Goldstein and her Portage County Moms group are throwing a birthday bash for her 8-year-old son, Morgan, and any other leap-year day kids who decide to show up.
The party theme is "229," with 229 cupcakes, 229 Dixie Cups filled with green Kool-Aid and, at 2:29 p.m., 229 balloons released to the sky.
What's the big deal, you wonder?
It's one small step for Morgan. One giant leap for his kind.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org, 216-999-5531
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